Stop ‘escalation,’ Spain PM urges Catalan separatists as protest continues

Barcelona (AFP) – Spain’s prime minister called Wednesday on Catalan separatists to stop their “escalation” as several thousand people took to the streets of Barcelona to protest at Madrid’s attempts to derail a banned referendum on independence.

“Stop this escalation of radicalism and disobedience once and for all,” Mariano Rajoy said in a televised statement as protesters remained in the centre of the Mediterranean seaside city after a day-long demonstration that headed into the night.

“There is still time to avoid bigger problems.”

Shouting “we will vote” and “no pasaran” (Spanish for “they shall not pass”), independence supporters started their gathering on Wednesday morning after police detained 14 Catalan government officials.

They refused to move as the day wore on, further angered by an announcement by the interior ministry that police had seized “close to 10 million ballot papers” destined for the October 1 vote deemed illegal by the central government.

Over in Madrid, hundreds of supporters of the referendum gathered in solidarity in Puerta del Sol square, which hosted scores of anti-austerity protests during the Spanish economic crisis.

Among those arrested by the Guardia Civil police was Josep Maria Jove, secretary general of economic affairs and Catalonia’s deputy vice president, a regional government spokesman said.

The others work in various Catalan government departments and are suspects in a probe into “disobedience, misfeasance and embezzlement”, the High Court in Catalonia said.

Launched in February, the probe centres around allegations that confidential data was stolen to provide separatists with information on Catalan taxpayers, a judicial source who refused to be named said.

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont condemned the “totalitarian and undemocratic attitude of the Spanish state.”

He accused Madrid of imposing a “de facto” state of emergency to stop the referendum.

– ‘They declared war’ –

In central Barcelona, several thousand people gathered near Jove’s office, many draped in red and yellow Catalan flags, chanting “Independence!”

Hundreds more were in front of the department of foreign affairs, where they blocked the departure of Guardia Civil vehicles for hours.

To shouts of “Get out, get out, get out Spanish police”, protesters also gathered in front of the headquarters of the radical CUP party, part of Catalonia’s ruling separatist coalition, where police had said they were carrying out an “operation”.

Anna Sola, an unemployed…

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